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Pac-12 Confidential

Bud Withers offers an inside look at the Pac-12 Conference and the national college scene.

July 17, 2014 at 8:15 PM

Preseason magazines, Groundhog Day, and my Pac-12 picks . . .

Friday’s the deadline for official media picks for the Pac-12 football race, and at the end of this epistle, you’ll get mine, free of charge.

But first, a word on the selections of the preseason magazines.

Awhile back, I bought Lindy’s, one of the most respected of the college magazines. Here’s how they forecast the Pac-12 race:

North

1, Oregon. 2, Stanford. 3, Washington. 4, Oregon State. 5, Washington State. 6, Cal.

South

1, UCLA. 2, USC. 3, Arizona State. 4, Arizona. 5, Utah. 6, Colorado.

On I trudged to pick up USA Today’s magazine. It has it:

North

1, Oregon. 2, Stanford. 3, Washington. 4, Oregon State. 5, Washington State. 6, Cal.

South

1, UCLA. 2, USC. 3, Arizona State. 4, Arizona. 5, Utah. 6, Colorado.

Then it was on to Athlon. That magazine had it:

North

1, Oregon. 2, Stanford. 3, Washington. 4, Oregon State. 5, Washington State. 6, Cal.

South

1, UCLA. 2, USC. 3, Arizona State. 4, Arizona. 5, Utah. 6, Colorado.

Anybody beginning to sense a pattern here?

Then Phil Steele’s always-provocative football preview arrived in the mail. He had it:

North

1, Oregon. 2, Stanford. 3, Washington. 4, Oregon State. 5, Washington State. 6, Cal.

South

1, UCLA. 2, USC. 3, Arizona. 4, Arizona State. 5, Utah. 6, Colorado.

Aha. With that Arizona-ASU flip-flop, finally, a smidgen of dissent.

And ultimately, a look at The Sporting News’ forecast, which, compared to the others, got absolutely racy:

North

1, Oregon. 2, Stanford. 3, Washington. 4, Washington State. 5, Oregon State. 6, Cal.

South

1, UCLA. 2, Arizona State. 3, USC. 4, Arizona. 5, Utah. 6, Colorado.

Sad to report, I’m not going to deviate too severely from much of what you just saw, and I wish I could. But I, and my Stepford brothers around me, have sort of a safe cocoon into which we default in making preseason predictions: We assign great weight to what happened a year ago, assess what’s returning, and brew up a forecast.

After the boffo 2000 season enjoyed by Washington, Oregon State and Oregon, you may recall, Sports Illustrated splashed Oregon and Oregon State on its 2001 cover, seemingly only too eager to jump on a trendy story. Of course, OSU had suffered significant losses and face-planted, somewhat predictably, that year. I remember my future Times colleague, Bob Condotta, saying, “What they’ve (SI) proven is, they know who was good last year.”

Of course, reality is never as pat as the 2014 prognostications, and that’s a good thing. There are so many pertinent factors in the making of a season, many of them unseen to all but those close to the program. Maybe there’s a young quarterback about to come of age, maybe there are injured players returning. Maybe it’s a program that’s used to winning big, and when it suffers a couple of losses, it doesn’t know how to handle it. Maybe it’s a shortfall in leadership, bringing about some poor chemistry.

At any rate, give me the prescient soul who saw Oregon about to win the 1994 title, or the one who forecast Washington State in 1997, over the consensus, ho-hum pick. Unfortunately, you also want to be right, which is why you’ll find my 2014 choices about as boring as the ones you just read. This just doesn’t look like the year where somebody comes out of leftfield, unless one or more of the bumper supply of quarterbacks gets hurt.

What might foil the consensus? Given Stanford’s recent mastery of Oregon, and the fact Ducks coach Mark Helfrich is still an unproven commodity, the Cardinal might win the North, especially if the remaining talent at Stanford is as good as David Shaw has been saying. If you really want a darkhorse in the North, it could be Washington. In fact, in January, I picked the Huskies to edge into second place, but that was before quarterback Cyler Miles got suspended for the spring. There’s enough around him, especially on defense, for Washington to make a statement.

I could see Washington State coming of age in Mike Leach’s third year — his third Texas Tech team put up 40 or more points eight times — and nosing past Washington or Oregon State, or both. But his team is awfully unproven on the back end defensively.

In the South, it’s not a stretch to project USC on top, if the adjustment to Steve Sarkisian isn’t mammoth, and if the Trojans have enough depth. And I think Arizona pushes up into the top three, even though it’s the place without a quarterback, and the school 120 miles up the road has one.

So, a little sheepishly, I give you:

North

1, Oregon. 2, Stanford. 3, Washington. 4, Washington State. 5, Oregon State. 6, Cal.

South

1, UCLA. 2, USC. 3, Arizona. 4, Arizona State. 5, Utah. 6, Colorado.

The best news is, there’s probably a very good chance somebody slides up or down two or three spots from where they’re popularly seen. The chalk of the summer months often morphs into upheaval by October.

Thank heaven.

I’m reminded that a few years ago, Basketball Times, a publication to which I used to contribute, carried late in the season a solid, well-reasoned, statistically-based story on how the recent breakthroughs by George Mason (2006) and Butler (2010) into college basketball’s final weekend were outliers unlikely to be repeated. The headline was something like, “Don’t Expect Any Darkhorses in the Final Four.”

The writer, like those of us forecasting the 2014 Pac-12 football race, no doubt believed he had it nailed.

That was the year Butler and Virginia Commonwealth both made the Final Four.

 

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